Kingston: Low-income students should 'sweep the floor' for lunches

Georgia Republican Rep. Jack Kingston, a candidate for Senate, suggested that low-income students either pay or work for their subsidized school lunches to teach them that “there is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Speaking to a meeting of the Jackson County Republican Party in Georgia on Saturday, Kingston suggested a change to the federal school lunch program.

“One of the things I’ve talked to the Secretary of Agriculture about — why don’t you, you know, have the kids pay a dime, pay a nickel, instill in them that there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. Or maybe sweep the floor in the cafeteria,” he says in a video first reported by The Huffington Post.

Kingston adds: “And yes, I understand that would be an administrative problem, and I understand that it would probably lose you money, but think what we would gain as a society in getting people, getting the myth out of their head that there is such thing as a free lunch.”

The federal school lunch program provides free lunches to children from families with incomes at or less than 130 percent of the poverty level, and reduced-price lunches for students from families making up to 185 percent of the poverty level.

Kingston’s view is not entirely unique within the GOP. In 2011, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a fellow Georgia Republican, suggested firing janitors at schools in low-income areas and hiring students instead.

"You're in a school that is failing with a teacher that is failing. ... Most of these schools ought to get rid of the unionized janitors, have one master janitor and pay local students to take care of the school. The kids would actually do work, they would have cash, they would have pride in the schools, they'd begin the process of rising,” Gingrich said then.

The comments drew heavy fire from the left and became an issue for him during his presidential campaign.

Kingston is facing seven other candidates in the Republican primary for Georgia's open Senate seat, which is currently held by retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R). Democrats are expected to nominate former nonprofit CEO Michelle Nunn for the seat.

Nathan Click, Nunn's spokesman, told The Hill that it was "sad" that Kingston is "willing to use kids who can't afford school lunches to score political points."

"Looking at the candidates on the other side, it seems to be a race to prove who is the most extreme and who will be the best champion of more dysfunction in Washington," he said.

--This piece previously stated, incorrectly, that Kingston is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, and that the committee oversees the school lunch program. It has been updated.